Ethics of Belief
Philosophy 480
2:30 - 3:50, MTh Peter Suber
Carpenter 323Fall 2002-03



The required reading for this course consists of a few hand-outs and the following books:

  1. Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. A.J. Krailsheimer, Penguin Books, 1966 (original c. 1660-1662).
  2. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Oxford University Press, rev. ed., 1968 (original 1739).
  3. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, translated by Werner S. Pluhar, Hackett Pub. Co. 1996 (original 1781).
  4. Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, trans. James Strachey, W.W. Norton, 1961 (original 1927).

    Since most students taking this course will already have the Hume and Kant from previous courses, I have not asked the bookstore to stock them for this course. If you need them, here are Amazon links to the correct editions (Hume and Kant). You may order the books from Amazon or your favorite bookseller.

I've created a course home-page containing a collection of hand-outs and course-related web links at


Works and pages cited for a given day will be discussed that day and should have been read in advance. Those in square brackets are recommended but not required. Papers are due at class time on the days listed.

Week 1, August 26-30
No class
First class, no reading due

Week 2, September 2-6
This syllabus, Generic hand-out, Presentation hand-out, Essay assignment hand-out. W.K. Clifford, "The Ethics of Belief" (hand-out) (also on the web)
William James, "The Will to Believe" (hand-out) (also on the web)

Week 3, September 9-13
Clifford and James, cont.
Gerald McCarthy, "Introduction [to the Ethics of Belief Debate]" (hand-out)

Week 4, September 16-20
Robert O'Connell on William James, excerpts (hand-out)
George Mavrodes, "Intellectual Morality in Clifford and James" (hand-out)

Week 5, September 23-27
Linda Trinkaus Zagzebski (hand-out) pp. 1-29
No class, but... Clifford-James paper due
Zagzebski, cont., pp. 58-75

Week 6, September 30 - October 4
Pascal, Pensées, Sections 33-34, 44-45, 75-76, 82-83, 98-99, 109-110, 124, 130-131, 148-150, 158, 160, 166, 167, 170, 173-177, 179, 182-188, 190, 192, 199-202, 232, 234-236, 242, 380, 387, 400-01, 404-406, 418-419
Pascal, Pensées, Sections 423-424, [427-429], 445-446, [512], 520-521, 530, 539, 553, 568, 576-577, 588, 599-600, 619, 621, 630-633, 646, 661, 672, 674, 699, 737, 739, 744, 751, 786, 808-809, 814-815, 820-821, [840], [882], 896, 905, 913, 926, 962, 975, [983]

Week 7, October 7-11
Hume, Treatise, [180-187], 263-274
No class today (I'll be out of town)

Week 8, October 14-18
Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, The Canon of Pure Reason, B.832-860 (in Pluhar trans., 735-755) (in Kemp Smith trans., 635-652)
Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, On The Interest of Reason in the Antinomies, B.490-504 (in Pluhar trans., 486-496) (in Kemp Smith trans., 422-430); The Discipline of Pure Reason in regard to its Polemical Employment, B.766-785 (in Pluhar trans., 687-701) (in Kemp Smith trans., 593-605)
No class, but... Pascal-Hume-Kant paper due

Week 9, October 21-25
Freud, Future of an Illusion, Sections I-III (pp. 5-25)
Freud, Future of an Illusion, Sections IV-VII (pp. 26-50)

Week 10, October 28 - November 1
Freud, Future of an Illusion, Sections VIII-X (pp. 51-71)
Freud, Future of an Illusion, review.

Week 11, November 4-8
Susan Haack (hand-out)
No class, but... Freud paper due
Robert Nozick (hand-out)

Week 12, November 11-15
Mozert case (hand-out) (also on the web)
Mozert case, cont.; UNC case (hand-out)

Week 13, November 18-22
Twitchell case (hand-out) (also on the web)
Legal presumptions and burdens of proof (hand-out)

Week 14, November 25-29
No class, Thanksgiving break

Week 15, December 2-6
Prisoner's dilemma (hand-out). No student-led discussion today.
Nietzsche excerpts (hand-out) Evaluation form due before next class

Week 16, December 9-13
Judgment day:  last day of class
Final paper topic due
No class

Week 17, December 16-20
No class, but... Final paper due, 2:30 pm


Title Due date Weight Description
Clifford-James paper September 25 20% Comparative, 7-9 pages. Details.
Pascal-Hume-Kant paper October 18 20% 5-7 pages (7-9 pages if comparative). Details.
Freud paper November 5 15% 5-7 pages. Details.
Evaluation form December 9 0% Due any time before the last day of class. Use the hardcopy form I will hand out or print yourself a copy of the online version.
Final paper December 16 25% 12 page minimum. On a question of your choice. Topic due December 9. Details.
Participation Daily 20% Attendance, preparation for class, and helpful, voluntary participation in class and electronic discussion. Includes giving presentations and leading discussion on Mondays. Details.
You must submit all assigned work to pass the course.


You'll write three shorter papers and one longer paper for this course. The shorter papers should be 5-7 pages (or 7-9 pages if comparative), and the longer paper 12 pages minimum.

The first shorter paper will be on Clifford and James, the second on Pascal, Hume, and/or Kant, and the third on Freud. The first must be comparative. The second one may be at your option. All three should follow the description in my essay assignment hand-out.

The longer paper may be on any question pertaining to the ethics of belief. With permission, it may enlarge upon an earlier, shorter paper or incorporate relevant work already done in a shorter paper.

The topic question of your final paper is due in writing in the last day of class, a week before the paper itself is due. If you can settle on your topic even earlier, you should consider doing so; that will give you more time to reread relevant texts, do library research, and think through the issues you've chosen to address. Because grades are due shortly after the due date, I can give no extensions on the final paper.

In all papers, library research will be welcome but is not required.

See my generic hand-out for details on paper mechanics, lateness, and rewrites.

If you give me a self-addressed, stamped envelope with your final paper, then I'll mail your paper back to you during the break. If you only put your campus mail box number on the paper, then I'll mail it to your campus box. If you do neither, I'll hold it for you to pick up next semester.


This is a seminar; hence, there will be very few lectures. Attendance and good preparation are essential to the success of a seminar. I expect all of you to be fully prepared every day to discuss the reading, ask questions about its meaning and merit, help others to find the answers, discern presuppositions, trace consequences, reconstruct arguments, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of positions, and recognize the stakes.

I expect everyone to speak voluntarily every day. I will not call on non-volunteers unless it is necessary to bring in every voice.

I hope to make use of electronic discussion to continue and deepen our in-class discussions. I've set up an email list for this course. If you send an email to the list, then everyone in class receives a copy automatically. To use the list, simply send email to ethibel or For answers to common questions about using the list, see my electronic discussion hand-out.

Presentations and leading discussion

Starting Week 4, the first half of every Monday class is reserved for student-led discussion. Discussion leaders need not have done any outside reading or library research, although I recommend it highly. They should be especially well prepared on the parts of the text assigned for that day. Leaders should start with a 10-15 minute presentation in which they offer a reading of selected parts of the text of interest to them. For the rest of their time, they should lead a discussion on the topics raised in their presentation. In the presentation and subsequent discussion, the leaders will not lecture, and need not have answers, but should have good questions and know where in the text to look for answers and how to lead a discussion that discovers answers. Each leader should give me a short outline of their presentation and plan for discussion at the beginning of the hour. I will be glad to meet with discussion leaders beforehand to discuss topics and methods. See the hand-out on presentations for more information.

Each of you will present and lead discussion several times. Just how many times depends on how the enrollment divides into the number of available Mondays. (Leaders will present alone, not with partners.) Which Mondays go to which students will be decided first-come, first-served. If there are no volunteers for a given Monday, I will throw dice. Look ahead at the assignments and your work for other classes, and volunteer as soon as you can for the week of your choice.

If you encounter any choice quotations for my hand-out in your research for papers or presentations, please let me know.


Any student with a documented disability who wishes to arrange reasonable accommodation should talk to me and the Director of the Center for Academic Enrichment (Runyan basement, phone x.1341) as soon as possible and at least within the first two weeks of the semester.

Return to the course home-page.

Ribbon] Peter Suber, Department of Philosophy, Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374. Copyright © 1999-2002, Peter Suber.